Published January 1, 2012. From Cook's Illustrated.
Many people enjoy oyster crackers simply for snacking, but they were originally intended to accompany soup. We wondered which brand would perform both functions best.
How oyster crackers earned their name is long forgotten, but either their shell-like shape or traditional pairing with seafood chowders must have played a part. Today they’re available in various forms, from more archetypal versions resembling dense hardtack to light, flaky disks. Many people enjoy oyster crackers simply for snacking, but they were originally intended to accompany soup, and we wondered whether traditional or modern versions would perform both functions best.
We evaluated four nationally distributed brands for their taste and texture, both alone and in tomato soup. The crackers ranged from small and hexagonal to large and almost spherical, with some featuring the typical crimped edges. Our tasters panned the largest and most traditional cracker for being too “dense,’’ “bland,’’ and even “raw’’-tasting. The winning cracker, by contrast, was better suited for straight-from-the-box snacking, with its “tender,” “flaky” texture and “wheaty” taste, yet it also held its crispness in soup. The more classic runner-up closely rivaled it in the rankings, also retaining its crunch after soaking in soup. This brand had a pleasantly “floury” flavor that was deemed “just what an oyster cracker should be.”
Bottom line: Tasters want an oyster cracker that not only stays crunchy in soup but also can be eaten on its own.